Kelly knows how he wants the Irish to do that. He wants to do it having a dominant defense, like the Irish did last year, when Notre Dame was seventh in the nation in total defense and second in scoring defense at 12.77 points a game. He also wants a fast-paced offense that keeps defenses off-balance with a no-huddle, hurry-up spread attack like he had when Cincinnati finished fourth in the nation in scoring in 2009 at 38.6 points a game.
“I want that as an offensive tool that we can go into a game at any time and change how we play the game. We couldn’t do that last year,” he said. “I believe we are close to being able to do that this year.”
There was a time when Irish fans weren’t certain Kelly would be Notre Dame’s coach in 2013. He interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles job on the day after the BCS game. Irish players were back at their homes when news broke and were concerned. Quarterback Everett Golson was worried if Kelly left it would mean starting over.
“But that fact that he did come back, we’re ramped up and ready to go,” he said.
Golson and other Irish players say they accepted Kelly’s explanation that he was simply learning more about being an NFL coach and determining he is better suited for college. Kelly joked when asked if he had to do anything to win players back.
“They don’t like me very much anyway, so it was really very little,” he said.
Kelly said he expects more teams to contact him in the future “because we’re going to continue to win here. That doesn’t mean I have an interest.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the school is continuing to work on a contract extension for Kelly, whose current deal runs through the 2016 season. He said he hopes to have a deal in place by the start of the season.
So the focus now is on whether Notre Dame can contend again for a national title. The final question for Kelly at the town hall meeting came from emcee Tim Brown, the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, about how many games Kelly expects Notre Dame to win.
“Thirteen,” he said, to applause from the crowd, explaining it was the only possible answer. “If our kids do the right things, which they have, and prepare the right way, and play the right way on Saturdays, we’ll have them prepared and I expect to win each and every week that we play.”
That’s the message Irish fans want to hear.